I came back from my summer break enthused with ideas for developing my practice. What does one do on hot summer days with nothing but the Mediterranean sea and a couple of good books?
Swim of course! Afterwards, when my tired muscles complain, I would retreat to a shady corner with my books.
My reading list had surprisingly little to do with art as I often find good ideas exploring different perspectives. This summer I read Ann Patchett, Jack Kerouac, Anthony Doer, Vaclav Smil, Elizabeth Kolbert and Robin Wall Kimmer.
I only finished one book of the last three books. All three offered opinions on global warming. All were repetitive and well padded.
To be fair to Smil, Kolbert and Kimmer – I have read many academic papers on this topic. Ever the optimist I hoped for a fresh perspective.
In contrast, the stories by Patchett, Kerouac and Doer are beautifully crafted by master wordsmiths. If only scientist could write this well!
Rounding out my summer I took time to study art book design and fine art compositing.
My motivation to understand art book design rose from a conversation with Rhiannon Adam, author of three beautifully crafter books. The latter happened to be at the bottom of a very long bucket list.
Rhiannon encouraged me to reimagine my Venice essay into something more substantial. The time and effort gave me a valuable lesson in crafting visual narratives. I also learnt that there are glaring gaps in my image-making repertoire.
Whilst I enjoy shooting iconic images, finding a sense of a place and the overarching view in a story, I struggle with shooting detail & action. Especially when it requires that I engage with people.
This is a natural state of affairs for an introvert such as myself. It is also a problem I can solve through deliberate practice.
This was probably the most important idea I brought back from my summer break.
To gain mastery in any craft one has to engage in deliberate practice. This is a process driven approach to developing areas of expertise.
The core ideas behind deliberate practice are:
- Define the elements you need to practice to become successful.
- Plan, reflect and take notes of each practice session. Drill each element you identified separately.
- You should reflect on what worked and what did not. Try to identify how each session improved or worsened things.
- Go slow and practice for as long as you can focus fully. Initially this will limit you to fifteen to forty-five minutes, depending on your skill level.
- Track and celebrate small improvements.
- Process is everything; outcome a distraction.
To develop my skill as a reportage photographer I need to practice elements such as street portraits, detailed imagery and the skill to manually focus & expose under pressure.
All three will stretch me in a different ways. All will greatly improve my essays.
A’ Propos de Paris by Bresson
A literature review is a right of passage in any worthwhile undertaking. In another life I used to labour over academic texts to find an edge as an investor.
This worked, for the most part, but offered an entirely different satisfaction form the pleasure I take viewing the work of masters of my craft.
In ‘A question of Paris’ Maurice Coriat dived into Bresson’s catalogue at the Musee Carnavalet. The book gives us a more humble perspective on Bresson’ work. This is Bresson unvarnished.
We all know & love his iconic images. Here we see his love of life shine through. In his words, “You see, photography is nothing, it’s life that interests me. Life you see?” It is this love that shows us images that are not always sharp or devoid of distractions, but shining with a love of the life around him.
Plate 94 masterfully uses negative space around the centred cityscape. In both the foreground and background details are mostly burnt away to emphasise the intricate details of the tree and bridge. There is little detail evident in the structure behind the bridge.
This is an elegant way to lend weight to a subject that might drift away. I recently tried something similar in my Venice collection, only to be told at a print viewing that, “this is not done.”
Here you will often find a limb – such as a hand, foot or forearm – cutoff as the photographer compromised to capture the essence in close confines in time periods measured in fractions of a second. This alone is a valuable lesson.
Bresson had a knack for seeking out vantage points from which he would shoot the city and its people. The book is littered with images of roof tops, the Parisian skyline and people gathering together. This has long been a feature of my work that I abandoned as I learnt to shoot in the close confines of a packed city street.
Here you will learn that it’s fine to shoot people form behind – as long as it compliments your narrative.
I’m not suggesting that I create images as well as Bresson. Rather, that photography is littered with rules of thumb that make for boring & predictable images. An afternoon with a master showed me that it’s acceptable to ignore them.
I have been quietly working on a long-running project aimed at giving direction to my creative practice. For the most part my creative output had covered travel & reportage, portraits and nature. In fact, it was my growing love of nature photography that gave birth to this website.
However, I have never subscribed to the view that a creative’s voice is static. It will evolve and change. So it is perfectly legitimate to treat one’s creative life as a series of experiments. Try to live the life you want – but leave yourself an exit plan!
It is little known fact that my output of travel, reportage and portraiture far exceed that of nature photography. Indeed, it was my fascination with art and reportage that got me started in photography. That and the need for a healthy hobby!
My hobby has evolved into a passion for crafting fine images and johandupreez.com must be rebuilt to accommodate the changing needs of my practice.
This project is about having fun doing something I love. I will make adjustments should the sludge factor out weight the joy my practice gives me.